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Breaking frontiers for the development and production of custom-made fuels through synthetic biology and fuel design – a multidisciplinary approach (Advert reference: RDF20/EE/MCE/Azimov)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The UK transportation sector heavily relies upon fossil fuel products (96%) and is the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport is responsible for up to 71 % of overall transport CO2 emissions. Predictions indicate that in order to achieve the 2030 climate and energy targets in the UK, the share of renewable fuels in transport has to increase up to 10% of total transport energy demand by 2030, thus doubling their current use of ∼5%. In particular, new renewable fuels are required to decarbonize the heavy-duty transport and aviation sectors. To achieve the UK and EU target for 85-90% in CO2 reduction by 2050, the transport sector needs to reduce its emissions by 60% by 2050, increasing the share of renewable fuels up to 27%.

This multidisciplinary project will apply synthetic biology and fuel design to break frontiers in development and production of new renewable fuels and help enabling a higher yield of clean renewable fuel with required properties. The biochemical discovery and understanding of new pathways and genetic engineering will facilitate our ability to produce a suite of renewable hydrocarbon-alike molecules to be used as drop-in fuels for applications in transport and aviation sectors. The project innovates with a reverse-engineering approach with the scope to design energy-carrying molecules and promises to customize processes, maximize the use of resources (CO2, waste/residue biomass, wastewater, etc.), and produce new patentable knowledge in the field. The project will tackle basic principles of biosynthetic fuel pathways, experimental proof of concept and technology validated in relevant lab environments. The new fuels and surrogates will be designed, laboratory validated and produced for the use in internal combustion engines and vehicles. Impact on environment and engine performance will be investigated along with the development of pre-industrial concepts ready for demonstration and future commercial realization.

The principal supervisor for this project is Dr Ulugbek Azimov. The second and third supervisors will be Prof Alexey Burluka and Dr Jose Munoz.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/EE/MCE/AZIMOV) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU/ Worldwide students where a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


1. V. Okoro, U. Azimov, J. Munoz, H. Hernandez, A. Phan. Microalgae cultivation and harvesting: Growth performance and use of flocculants - A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol.115, 2019, 109364.

2. A. Labourel, A. Baslé, A., J. Munoz, D. Ndeh, S. Booth, SA. Nepogodiev, RA. Field, A. Cartmell. Structural and functional analyses of glycoside hydrolase 138 enzymes targeting chain A galacturonic acid in the complex pectin rhamnogalacturonan II. Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vol. 294, 2019, 19, p. 7711-7721.

3. O. Adeniyi, U. Azimov, A. Burluka. Algae biofuel: Current status and future applications. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol.90, 2018, pp. 316-335

4. E. Agbro, W Zhang, A Tomlin, A Burluka. Experimental Study on the Influence of n-butanol blending on the Combustion, Autoignition and Knock Properties of Gasoline and its Surrogate in a Spark Ignition Engine. Energy & Fuels, Vol. 32, 2018, pp. 10052-10064.

5. U. Azimov, N. Stylianidis, E. Tomita, N. Kawahara. Characterisation of DME-HCCI combustion cycles for formaldehyde and hydroxyl UV–vis absorption. Fuel, Vol.210, 2017, pp. 578-591.

6. D Knyazkov, V Shvartsberg, A Dmitriev, K Osipova, A Shmakov, O Korobeinichev, A Burluka. Combustion chemistry of ternary blends of hydrogen and C1–C4 hydrocarbons at atmospheric pressure. Combustion, Explosion and Shock Waves, Vol. 53, 2017, pp 491–499.

7. A Burluka, R Gaughan, J Griffiths, C Mandilas, C Sheppard, R Woolley. Experimental observations on the influence of hydrogen atoms diffusion on laminar and turbulent premixed burning velocities. Fuel, Vol. 189, 2017, pp. 66-78.

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